2009. március 18., szerda
Malice - James E. Neal
Again a dream of mine came true with this interview. In my opinion, Malice were one of the most overlooked and underrated bands of the '80s. They managed to release two awesome albums titled "In the begining" and "License to kill", but them never failed to get the major success, that they would have deserved. Singer James E. Neal answered my questions.
The band's career started in Portland in 1979 and a relatively long way led to the forming of the classic line up (you on vocals, Jay Reynolds and Mick Zane on guitars, Mark Behn on bass and Cliff Carothers on drums), can you sum up the early the period of the band?
I met Mick and Mark at a party one night. We decided to get together at my place and see what might happen.
What were the previous bands, that you've played with before you formed Malice? How did they sound like? You went through some line up changes as well, right?
I had been in quite a few local bands across the US, from Texas to Florida to Oregon. Nothing ever quite came of those situations, though. The bands I sang in all played top-notch rock and roll songs, from James Gang to Judas Priest, so it was really fun for me because I loved being able to sing like Joe Walsh, Robert Plant, Rob Halford, etc. As for line up changes, once the band was formed and signed to Atlantic in Los Angeles, we stayed the same. Early on, I think Pete was playing with us, but I don't quite recall the circumstances for him leaving. I'm glad to see he's back with them - he really is a pretty good drummer.
How was the metal scene in Portland back then? Were you familiar with bands, that started their career at the same time as you?
I don't remember all that much about it. Just trying to survive and retain my own sense of rock and roll.
What were your main infuences back then?
Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, etc. Anyone new who had a sound that made my head turn - Van Halen and Judas Priest, for example.
How did you get involved in the metal scene at all? I mean, at which point did you discover metal exactly?
When you think about it, Metal wasn't really invented or created - the genre sort of just metamorphed out of hard rock. I guess I had to metamorph along with it because by the time I got together with the boys in Malice down in Hollywood, it was the emerging force in the current music scene.
How did you end up becoming singer?
I had already sang in church choirs from age 7, where I was teased as being a girl because my voice was so high. It didn't bother me because I really didn't know or care what was meant by that. Later on, when I was about 12, I discovered Eric Burden and the Animals "A Girl Called Sandoz", and the Rolling Sones "Let's Spend the Night Together", and began singing along with the records. That's how I discovered what I loved to do and that I actually could do it. When Led Zepplin came out with "Dazed and Confused", all hell broke loose, and eventually the Malice adventure happened.
How do you view, that not only did Malice sound like Judas Priest by warrant of your heavy European guitar riffing but you, a practising Buddhist, sounded uncannily like Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford and guitarist Jay Reynolds was a deadringer for Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing?
Actually, I didn't think about stuff like that at all. I view Rob Halford as the one of the most amazing vocalist of all time - right up there with Ian Gillan, Robert Plant, and all the others. We weren't trying to be like anyone - it just kind of turned out that way.
Did Malice's insistence on wearing studded black leather only compound the comparisons?
I don't know about that. I just went along with the costume designs - it wasn't a big part of my M.O.. I just wanted to write songs and perform.
Do you think, that it was Jay Reynolds that provided the catalyst for Malice? Would you say, that the band's career has assumed a serious complexion after Jay joined the band?
I'm probably the wrong person to ask that sort of question. I have never considered the complexion of the band or who was any sort of catalyst.
Having returned to Portland from Hawaii, where he had worked with various acts, he soon forged The Ravers and when this band folded Reynolds set to work assembling Malice, the first rehearsals featuring you, Matt McCourt, Deen Castronovo, of Wild Dogs, on drums and then sixteen year old Kip Doran of Evil Genius and The Enemy on guitar, what do you recall of your early rehearsals?
Not a whole lot, really. You seem to know a whole lot more about his life than me.
Did you start writing originals right from the start or were you playing covers, mostly Judas Priest ones in the first line?
As soon as I began learning to play guitar, around 12 years old, I started writing my own songs. They were pretty lame, I imagine.
Does it mean that you were heavily influenced by the NWOBHM movement? Were you familiar with bands, that have came from England, such as Witchfinder General, Jaguar, Grim Reaper, Sweet Savage and a lof of others?
I'm not really that familar with the NWOBHM movement, although they did sign onto my myspace page as a friend. I'm looking into what they are doing now. Seems to be a new wave of metal bands from England. Maybe a resurgence of the 60's and 70's music scene. That would be cool.
You released your first demo in 1982, can you give us details regarding that material? Do you still remember how was it recorded and was it your first studio experience by the way?
I barely remember recording the demo - must mean I was actually there!
Did this demo open some doors for the band?
Seems to me that the demo was used for the first Metal Massacre ablum.
Making your initial vinyl appearance on the first Metal Blade Records „Metal Massacre" compilation album, the only band to contribute two tracks, with „Captive Of Light" and „Kick You Down", were these tracks written exclusively for this record, since they didn't make up on the demo?
Those were the first two originals we ever did together, so they ended up that way. There wasn't anything special about writing them - I think Mark and Mick wrote them initially, and we ended up doing them first.
Do you still remember how did you end up featuring on the record? Did this compilation help to draw a lot of fans attention to the band?
I guess...again, that's not one of those things I worry about, really.
Introducing bassist Mark Behn and drummer Peter Laufmann, this formation the group relocated to Los Angeles, what made you to move to L.A.? Were you aware of the great underground scene, that existed in L.A. those times?
Mick and Mark called me, and told me the situation - that there was an opportunity. I couldn't resist.
What were your views on the L.A. scene back> then? Did you start building up a realtionship with bands, such as Pandemonium, Metallica, Slayer, Shellshock, Savage Grace, Bitch etc.?
Not really - pretty much kept to myself except on stage and at parties.
Do you agree with, that the L. A. scene was divided into two parts? There were the glam/hair outfits, such as Dokken, Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Sister (later became W.A.S.P.) and the underground, mostly thrash/speed/power ones, such as Metallica, Slayer, Shellshock (Dark Angel), Armored Saint, Abattoir, Spectre, Vermin etc.?
Yeah, there was that division wasn't there? I really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it all. Just wrote songs and performed best I could. They had their little world and I had mine. I did like Metallica and Armored Saint - we all know what happened to Metallica, but I always wondered what became of Armored Saint.
What about the club scene as a whole?
Didn't care for it a whole lot. Every once in a while, a gem would shine in the dark mess of the club scene, but it was rare.
Do you think, that the buzz on Malice now rollercoasted with the respected Dutch magazine Aardschok giving the band a cover story a mere two months after their formation?
The Asrdschok cover is one of the few things I actually have a memory of - just kidding. I didn't know anything about a "buzz" occuring. I was sort busy getting ready to go on the road in support of the album, which required most of my concentration.
The band's first gig came in November 1982 appearing at Los Angeles Troubadour Club headlining a bill with Metallica and Pandemonium as opening acts, what do you recall of that particular gig?
I remember being excited about performing at the "world-famous" Troubadour, and it did not let me down. Probably one of the more fun of any gig we did, in my estimation.
Would you say, that Malice was a highly impressive Los Angeles based Metal band noted for strenuous live work?
Well, we did work hard, and then played hard, so maybe those two "qualities" were impressive - I really didn't know what the feeling on us was. Like I said, I was too busy to worry about it.
A line-up change saw the introduction of with new drummer Cliff Carruthers, previously with Snow and Assassin and so the classic line up (for me at least) came into being, correct?
That is correct - he was a good percussionist.
In 1983 you released two demos, can you tell us more about them? Does it mean, that you constantly write newer and newer tracks?
Those two demos came about when Mark and Mick had me record the vocals for them. It seems to me that they then went to LA and got the songs hooked up with Metal Massacre. They called me and made me an "offer I couldn't refuse". The rest is pretty much history.
The quintet's ensuing Michael Wagener produced demo proved an immense tour de force and Malice soon found themselves at the centre of a record company bidding war, how much did Michael help you to develope the band's style and music? Did the demo really represent what you wanted to express with Malice?
Funny, I did not know it was Michael who produced that demo! Maybe, I just don't remember...lol. But anyway, I would imagine that Michael definitely helped form our style we were pretty raw back then. Also, when a producer comes into the picture, he or she becomes that "other" band member. Arrangements, voicings, alternate guitar, bass, drum, and vocal parts become a part of molding what the eventual package will sound and feel like. He helped us get our feet wet, so to speak, as to what sort of musical direction to take. As for the demo representing what I really wanted to express, that's a tough question - I tend to be quite eclectic, from some country and new age, to nearly every genre of rock and metal, to even some hip hop stuff. What I did with those songs represented where I was musically and creatively at that time. Music is an on-going progression of ideas and invention, so you never really know what's going to come out of the creative machine from day to day.
As I as know, in 1984 you released two demos, correct?
Probably - I think it was two of the songs we had been working on. I had been writing a lot of lyrics and the boys had some pretty snazzy riffs, so we took a chance.
Atlantic Records snapped up the band in July 1984 and the demo comprised half of Malice's first album, „In the beginning", but were there still labels, that started showing an interest in the band?
I do remember some other labels showing interest, but, yes, Atlantic gave us the best bid for the time. I always wanted to be on Atlantic, because they had so many great rock bands - Cream, Led Zepplin, etc.
At which point did you enter the studio and what about the recording sessions?
Man! - do you know how long ago that was? At this point in my life, it seems like another dimension, eons ago! I do remember entering the studio and the recording sessions, but dates - forget about it - I might end up hurting myself trying to dig those up! I do remember thoroughly enjoying recording and working out the different nuances that eventually molded each song into the entity it became. Especially, with the producer and engineers - seems to me they always had great ideas that could improve and enhance on what we had created.
Were all of the songs written and ready or did you write some new ones during the recording sessions?
As I recall, a little of both. Most of the stuff was already concocted by the time we got to the studio, but it seems to me that some new ideas came up in the studio and we mixed it up pretty good to get the final result.
What do you think about, that this album deserved a much richer fate than it ultimately received?
Well, that's kind of two-faced question, isn't it? I felt we had really great songs. Any time you put the kind of effort into something the way we did, you hope for the best. Ultimately, it came down to promotion, I guess. However, it seems there are folks in every corner of the world who have heard one or more of our songs. For me, that's all good. If one person gets enjoyment from our creative effort, then we did something right. So I guess you could say that is a "rich fate" of sorts.
The songs are all very strong heavy riff oriented, they are primarily up tempo musically, with excellent vocals and this is a superb record by a band that just didn't get the breaks they needed, although they deserved them, how do you explain this?
I don't have an explanation - seems things just worked out the way they did. You move on, as long as you have life, do what you do and make it work. I have never given up on music (I have my wife, who is my biggest fan, to thank for that) and I have plans to release some solo stuff within the next couple of years. What I'm saying is I'm not wasting time wondering, worrying about could have been, but spending time creating what could be - what will be, actually.
Do you agree with, that highlights on the record are album opener „Rockin' With You", „Air Attack", „Hellrider", „No Haven For The Raven", „The Unwanted" and the completely stellar „Godz of Thunder"?
IMHO - every song is a highlight. No song completely outshines the next. As each song was recorded or performed, it would take on a completely unique personality that would take over my mind, spirit, and body. But "No Haven" was one of my altime favorites, because the raven kept going - I guess he was tired of the crowded boat.
How do you view, that this is pure 80's L.A. Metal in about every way, from the overly glamed up look (eye liner, big hair, eccentrically 80's androgenous attire) to the cheesy song titles („Godz Of Thunder", „Squeese It Dry", „Stellar Master"), to the actual music... this just couldn't have come from any other era, or scene?
Those titles were cheesy? Guess maybe they were, a bit. At the time, they seemed catchy to me. As far as "androgenous attire", like I said before, I just went with the flow - hated the makeup thing, though.
L.A. back in '85 had no shortage on this type of music, that being a sound which blends a Hard Rock base, with more contemporary Metal riffage, and a Traditional/Power Metal approach in the vocals, and structure, in 1985 in L.A. Lizzy Borden, W.A.S.P., Mötley Crüe, Armored Saint, and a massive catalogue of others all had releases, all did great shows, and all, including Malice, made for a some what diverse, and highly competitive Metal scene, what's your views on it?
It was pretty diverse alright. You can see that in today's seemingly astronomical range of genres, just in rock alone. It was definitely competitive, which sort of pissed me off. I am from the old school of the 60,s and 70,s - the "glory days' if you will. People would just come together and write stuff and enjoy it. The 80's seemed to became an arena of metal gladiators trying to take each other out. All I wanted to do was write, record and play. Of course, there's the major part management tended to play in developing rifts among personel.
Did every band – or at least most of the bands- overshadow Malice not only in sales/fanbase, but also in longevity, and output which leaves this little piece of history („In The Beginning") quite misunderstood, and a bit under appreciated?
Do you agree with, that unfortunately for Malice, '85 was when the market of catchy Heavy Metal was beginning to die out, NWOBHM was dead, and in turn most bands from there were trying to cash in on the American pop market (with catchy Heavy Metal of course including Def Leppard or Judas Priest with their „Turbo" record), all the while large scenes were emerging of vastly different Metal styles, and in the end this genre basically saturated itself unto suicide?
Actually, I was glad to see that a few bands held onto their roots during a time (disco) that was quite scary, musically speaking. There was also the "formula" songs that I believe were being coerced on not only bands and performers, but the people in general through the radio.
Are, what truelly makes this album the solo work, the vocals, and the great production/mix?
I think it's a combination of our effort to put a cohesive musical entity together. The production is really nice for it's time, I think. Mick and Jay, along with Mark and Cliff all put in some serious thought and effort - which I really appreciated because it gave me so much latitude with which I could express myself freely. Vocals were fun - I got such a kick out of being able to hit all those notes.
Is „In the beginning" considered a milestone of heavy metal from the eighties?
I wouldn't know...you tell me.
How did happen, that the remaining tracks being produced by Ashley Howe? Were you happy with his work?
Yes - Ashley Howe had produced several of Uriah Heep's earlier albums, which by the way is still one of my all time favorite bands. Ken Hensley is a hell of songwriter and player. Definitely inspiring. So, I requested Ashley to be our producer for the first album, and wouldn't you know it - he showed up!
What about the shows that were in support of the record? How did the shows go as a whole?
Well, touring tends to be a bit of blur for me - near as I can remember, most shows seemed to go over well. There were a couple of shows in Europe that the audience was downright nasty, but then maybe that was the beginning of the "mosh pit" thing. Overall, I'd say the shows were pretty well received. I've gotten some fan mail of late that seems to indicate this - several of the fans expressed their appreciation for a particular show of ours that they went to, and that must of been some twenty-plus years ago!
Did a lot of fans join to the Malice camp? I mean, did it succeeded in getting new fans for the band?
Seems that way. It was nice that people were responding to our music. When you think about it, though, we didn't have the on-line presence that bands have today - we didn't even have video or CDs back then! That stuff was just beginning to emerge, so we had to rely on the publicity of our shows and the radio. I guess there was a fair number of fans enjoying our music. . If you mean the album, yes I think it did. We actually held a decent position in Rolling Stone's top album sales listing for awhile.
When did you start writing the material for the second record?
I think we already had some material in the works that never ended up on the first album. Like I said, we were always coming up with ideas where ever we were.
How many demo material did you use for it?
One or two, maybe, I don't really remember.
„Murder" was one of the demo songs, wasn't it?
I think you may be right about that.
What can you tell us about the recording sessions of the second record?
It was a bit of a blur, but was pretty cool and fun as I recall. I do remember Max Norman spending incredible amounts of time in the studio whether we were there or not - he was seriously workaholic. He spent a lot of time on details, fine-tuning each instrument and vocal track. He made me re-sing a lot of stuff, but then again, probably about half of the stuff I sang was done in one take.
Did you definitely get your things together far better on this album, losing almost all of the cheesy rocker-ish musical tendencies?
Well, I think it was just another step in musical and lyrical maturity. We were actually expanding our creative horizons, but never got to see it through. You can hear some of the things that could have been on my website, jameseneal.com. I have 6 radically different tunes there that I've written and recorded over the last 20 years.
There is „Licence to Kill", which is a very nice efficient-speed rocker and also „Chain Gang Woman", which is just vicious 80s-styled speedmetal…The driving riff assault in here is incredible, „Against the Empire" is also in a similar vein and quite good, while „Sinister Double” is a nice midpaced opener, how do you view it?
Actually, I started writing that tune in a motel room I was staying in in Hollywood with my brother, David. Chain Gang Woman was Jay's mindstorm and a lot of fun to do. Against the Empire was sort a tribute to Star Wars type ideas. I don't necessarily rate one song against the other - each one has it's own special place in my mind.
Would you say, that it can be listened to a nice combination of speed, melody, and riff work?
Yes, that song is about the obsession people seem to have with the concept of offing someone. To me, it is ridiculous for any human to preconceive another's death. Once you cross the line, I think, it will be too late. Interesting that you dubbed it a "killer" tune.
Do you agree with, that musically this record was reminiscent of „Screaming For Vengeance"-era Judas Priest?
That thought never crossed my mind until now when you mentioned it. Maybe so - I feel that Judas Priest and Malice had different styles and approaches to writing, even though there are some interesting similarities. Of course, we were pretty heavily influenced by them. In fact, I am currently adopting Priest's version of Joan Baez' "Diamonds and Rust" in my accoustic sets I have been working on.
Is this second album easily just as good as the first one „In The Beginning"?
I would like to think that our music and writing at least appeared to be maturing. I also think that License was definitely an improvement over In the Beginning.
What do you think about, that Malice was a band that got lost in the shuffle of 80's metal and you fell somewhere between the hair metal bands like Ratt & Poison and the power thrash metal bands like Testament or Flotsam and Jetsam?
I personally did not group Malice with any of the bands you mentioned above. But I guess we did have a bit of just about everything that was going on mixed in with our music and image. It was pretty hard to establish a unique identity back then.
You guys knew how to write music, the vocals are fantastic and often can reach Rob Halford like levels, the guitar work of Jay Renolds andMick Zane layer each song with a distinct personality, and are immediately catchy and the rhythm section was awesome too, how do you comment it?
Well, I don't really like comment on things like "fantastic" and "awesome", even thought it was fantastic and awesome that we had the opportunity to do what we did. I certainly enjoyed my time spent with the guys and consider everything that happened as a fantastic learning experience and awesome event in my life.
Do you consider this bone-crunching metal at it's finest? Is the band tight and the twin guitars are superb?
Yes, those guys were quite good when they knuckled down and kicked ass. Made me tend to go over the top at times.
The production is very good and there isn't a bad track here at all, do you think, that producer Max Norman did a good job behind the mixing pult/desk? Were all of you satisfied with his work?
I think so. All in all we were pretty happy with the final outcome. We just wanted to get out and play mostly.
Guests in the studio included Megadeth men Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson and Black 'n' Blue's Tommy Thayer and Jaime St. James, how did they end up doing some back vocals on the record?
I wasn't involved with most of that. It happened and I said ok.
Despite making headway with a strong record, a European tour supporting thrashers Slayer proved to be a disastrous mismatch with the headliner's fans hostility showing itself openly with spitting and verbal abuse, whose idea was to tour with Slayer at all? Didn't you have the opportunity to tour with a band, that had the same style and approach as you?
I didn't think so. We didn't seem to have a lot of say in those things back then. We would get the word that a show or tour was on, and away we went. I usually found out who we were playing with when we got there.
Was it your first European touring experience by the way? How did the Slayer crowd welcome the band?
I loved the European audience. They were much more into our music then Americans seemed to be. Same thing happened to Jimi Hendrix, come to think of it.
Did it succeed in reaching some succees with the tour? Was it a successful tour for you or…?
Depends on what you mean by "success". The fact that we did a tour and survived was "success" enough for me.
How were the Slayer guys with you?
Don't remember. They partied a lot, I guess.
Malice folded in late 1987, Jay Reynolds was very briefly to flirt with Megadeth although the friend he entrusted this confidential information to and tutored Reynolds on Megadeth riffs, Jeff Young, put his own name forward and landed the coveted position, but what happened with the rest of the band? Did you remain in touch with each other?
Yes, we are vaguely in touch - myspace and such.
Malice did an EP in 1989 titled „Crazy in the night", respectively the band appears as themselves in the 1988 movie „Viceversa", playing a live concert, can you tell us more about it? Did you follow the band's career after you quit?
Not really. We obviously had our differences of opinion and went our separate ways.
Did you get out of the music business or did you keep an eye on what's going on in the underground?
I keep an eye on things from time to time. But I am also busy redefining my musical existance. Right now it is in an accoustic stage.
Do you consider yourself metaller these days as well and is metal in your vein forever?
I still get a kick out of some metal these days. Even have a few ideas in the works.
What do you think about the band's reformation? Have you ever visited their website or their Myspace one?
I've seen what they are doing and wish them the best of luck.
Are you in touch with 'em these days?
Wounded Bird Records released both Malice records respectively this year was released a compilation album titled „Rare and unreleased", how deeply were you involved into the making of these records?
None at all.
Are the re-releases good opportunities to draw more fans attention to the band?
Remains to be seen.
What were your best and worst memories with Malice? How would you sum up the band's career? Would you something change on it?
Those questions probably would require and autobiography on my part. Best memories were in the studio and on stage. Worst - you don't want to know.
James, thanks a lot for the interview, anything what I forgot to mention or to cover?
Yes, what I'm doing now and my plans for the future. But later.
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